Skip to main content

Decision No. 16,346

Appeal of ERNEST JACKSON and CURTIS MANN from action of the Board of Education of the Chester Union Free School District and Sean Michel, superintendent, regarding disciplinary charges and application for removal of Jason LaTassa as a member of the board.

Decision No. 16,346

(April 2, 2012)

School Administrators Association of New York State, attorneys for petitioner, Arthur P. Scheuermann and Jennifer L. Carlson, Esqs., of counsel

Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert, LLP, attorneys for respondents, David S. Shaw and Steven M. Latino, Esqs., of counsel

KING, JR., Commissioner.--Petitioner Curtis Mann (“Mann”) is a taxpayer and resident of the Chester Union Free School District (the “district”).  Petitioner Ernest Jackson is the principal of the district’s Chester Middle School (“Jackson” or together with Mann “petitioners”).  Petitioners appeal the action of the Board of Education of the Chester Union Free School District (“respondent”) and Sean Michel, superintendent of schools (“Michel”), preferring disciplinary charges pursuant to Education Law §3020-a against Jackson.  Petitioners also seek the removal of board member Jason LaTassa (“LaTassa”).  The appeal must be dismissed and the application for removal denied.

LaTassa has been a board member since July 2009.  On July 2, 2009, he commenced a well-publicized lawsuit against Jackson and others alleging that LaTassa’s son, a middle school student, was subject to an illegal search in school.  In November 2009, LaTassa withdrew the lawsuit.

On September 23, 2010, Jackson and a school psychologist went to the home of two students who are siblings, to ascertain why they were absent from school that day.  The students were home with a 20-year-old cousin.  The students’ mother, who was not home at the time, complained to Michael and alleged that Jackson and the school psychologist entered her home without consent.  Michael investigated the incident and requested that respondent vote upon whether there was probable cause to prefer disciplinary charges against Jackson and the school psychologist.

At its November 23, 2010 meeting, respondent voted to prefer disciplinary charges against Jackson and the school psychologist, and suspended them with pay during the disciplinary proceedings.  Both votes were approved by a margin of one vote.  LaTassa voted in favor of preferring the disciplinary charges against Jackson and suspending him.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioners’ request for interim relief staying Jackson’s suspension during the pendency of the disciplinary charges and this appeal was denied on January 3, 2011.

On December 22, 2010, based upon new information, respondent rescinded the disciplinary charges preferred against Jackson.  LaTassa voted in favor of rescinding the disciplinary charges.

Petitioners assert that a conflict of interest existed between LaTassa and Jackson because of LaTassa’s 2009 lawsuit and that, therefore, LaTassa was required to recuse himself from the November 23, 2010 vote to suspend and prefer charges against Jackson.  Petitioners seek LaTassa’s removal based on his failure to recuse himself and to disclose the alleged conflict of interest, as required by respondent’s code of ethics.  Although petitioners initially sought nullification of the November 23, 2010 vote to prefer charges against Jackson, in their reply petitioners acknowledge that the request is moot because the charges were rescinded on December 22, 2010.  Petitioners withdrew that part of their appeal.

Respondents contend that the application for removal should be dismissed because the petition failed to include the notice required by 8 NYCRR §277.1(b).  Respondents also contend that petitioners have failed to meet their burden of proof.

Petitioners’ application for LaTassa’s removal must be dismissed because the notice of petition is defective.  Commissioner’s regulations require that the notice accompanying a removal application specifically advise a school officer that an application is being made for his or her removal from office (8 NYCRR §277.1[b]).  In this case, petitioners failed to give such notice and, instead, used the notice prescribed under §275.11(a) for appeals brought pursuant to Education Law §310.  A notice of petition which fails to contain the language required by the Commissioner’s regulation is fatally defective and does not secure jurisdiction over the intended respondent (Appeal of Johnston, 50 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,184; Appeal of Hertel, 49 id. 267, Decision No. 16,021; Application of Barton, 48 id. 189, Decision No. 15,832).

In light of this disposition on procedural grounds, I need not address the parties’ remaining contentions.